An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official flew nearly every weekend from his office in San Francisco to his home in southern California, amassing $69,000 in "excessive trips," according to the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
A new audit found that the former Region 9 Administrator also charged taxpayers nearly $4,000 for ineligible travel costs, as the official made 88 trips that he said were work related in just three years.
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"The former Region 9 Administrator made excessive trips to Southern California and claimed ineligible travel costs," the OIG said. "He made 88 trips in total from October 2006 through January 2009. For 51 of the 88 trips (58 percent), the former Region 9 Administrator traveled to Orange County/Los Angeles County (OC/LA), California, near the former Region 9 Administrator’s residence, at a cost of approximately $69,000."
The former official lived in Aliso Viejo, Calif., in Orange Country, though he mainly worked out of the Region 9 headquarters in San Francisco. The audit found that the official "traveled almost every weekend" to Orange County.
"Our analysis noted that the former Region 9 Administrator traveled to the OC/LA area almost every weekend," the OIG said. "Most of the time, his flight departed from Oakland International Airport (OAK) to John Wayne Airport (JWA), located approximately 11 miles from his Aliso Viejo residence."
The official also claimed meal and mileage expenses while he was home. The OIG noted that junior employees were responsible for approving his travel and questioned whether "subordinates would adequately review their supervisor’s travel."
"The Assistant Deputy Regional Administrator, a subordinate of the former Regional Administrator who approved some of his travel, stated that she reviewed the purpose of the trips and believed the trips were necessary," the OIG said.
However, given the high number of trips, the audit called into question whether the travel of the former official was "essential to performance of the agency mission."
Two employees who replaced the Region 9 Administrator have only traveled to Los Angeles for work seven times in two years.
The audit also found that the former Region 9 Administrator claimed $3,823 in ineligible travel costs, improperly claiming per diems on Saturdays, holidays, and multiple times for the same day. The official also was reimbursed for a rental car for a trip to Tucson, Ariz., though there was no record of him ever renting a car.
The EPA said the agency would work to recover any ineligible expenses made by the former official by April 2016.
The OIG also found weaknesses in the EPA’s oversight over employee travel overall. For instance, 15 percent of trips did not have an "adequate justification" for costing above per diem. Employees took 37 trips that cost over $5,000, 30 percent of which had inadequate justification between 2007 and 2013.
"Insufficient implementation of current travel policies and internal controls result in EPA travel dollars being vulnerable to fraud, waste and misuse," the OIG said.
The audit is the latest in a series that seeks to address policies that allowed the fraud of John C. Beale, a former EPA official who bilked the agency out of $900,000 while pretending to be a CIA agent.
Update, Thursday, Sept. 24, 1:50 P.M.: Kelly Zito, a spokeswoman for the EPA, provided the following statement. "As part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to improve financial management and internal controls, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General has conducted a number of audits of the agency’s operations. One of the examinations found that there was insufficient documentation to prove the eligibility of certain travel costs incurred by the former Regional Administrator for EPA Region 9, Wayne Nastri, between 2007 and 2009. Mr. Nastri was appointed by President George W. Bush in October 2001 and held that position until January 2009. EPA concurs with the conclusions reached in the OIG report and is working with Mr. Nastri on a voluntary repayment schedule to recover $3,823. Additionally, EPA is examining Mr. Nastri’s travel records for previous years to determine if there are other ineligible travel expenses, in accordance with the federal Debt Collection Act, which allows agencies to seek repayment where fraud is not alleged. EPA has instituted and is implementing controls to prevent similar travel-related discrepancies in the future."